January 27, 2014

I Don't Like Love - Sensory Issues Explained

TRIGGER WARNING: People touching others without express consent

Every once and a while I get reminded of a date I had with Hubby, very early in our relationship. We decided to meet at a restaurant and I went to find a seat to wait for him. I didn't know, but he was close behind me, so he came up from behind and touched my hair. My reflex was to snap my arm back, with my hand in a fist, and whack whoever touched me without permission. I ended up punching him square in the face and giving him a bloody nose.

Little did he know, I hated having my head or hair touched. Little did he know, I hate people touching me from behind. I hate people touching me without permission. I hate strangers touching me. I use the word, "hate" because it really is a strong aversion.

After the bleeding stopped, and I explained my issues, we still had a nice dinner. And evidently, he never tried to sneak up from behind me again. But it was nothing personal.
My quick reflexes would be very helpful if I were actually being attacked, but they are a bit of a mood killer otherwise, I must say. Still, I'll explain a little bit about why I react that way and maybe you can get an idea how it feels.

I should remind people that I have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and not just autism, so that could explain my extra sensitivity. Also, my sensory issues have changed since childhood, meaning I'm not quite as sensitive as I once was.

For as long as I can remember, I hated having my hair or head touched. Getting my hair brushed and styled was something to endure, not enjoy. My mom loved braiding and tying my hair. I hated it. The best way I can describe it is when you get the hebbie-jeebies - being touched gave me a feeling of pain, shivers and distinct uncomfortableness. It's just a yucky feeling.

Light touch is worse than deep touch. I enjoy a rough scalp massage, like when getting my hair washed at the salon. But a soft caress gives me the most disgusting feeling. So did long hugs. It could be so bad sometimes, that it actually made me vomit.

couple hugging in street on onequartermama.ca
What looks like a loving hug can feel like torture

So not liking soft kisses, caresses and other common demonstrations of affection make it look like I don't like love. When it's a child, it looks like the child hates you or finds you disgusting. It offended my mother greatly. My mom always wanted to smother me. Or at least, that's how it felt, because she didn't respect my bodily integrity.

It is always a worse (or more pronounced) sensory experience when the activity is forced upon me. So a surprise touch or one where I did not give consent is worse. In other words, a hug I did not want will feel more disgusting than a hug I want. Again, this was all much worse as a child since I could not get away from my mother. I learned to ignore my own feelings in order to make her feel happy. I will not go into the ramifications of how that sort of behaviour affects a person when it comes to interacting with other people, but I think you can guess. Suffice to say, it made me numb to some extent, and I have done things with people without feeling a thing or caring what was happening to my own body. 

My son, who seems to be my little sensory carbon copy, shows the same signs of having the same sensory issues as I do. He is a bit different, but he's not big on hugs or kisses unless it's on his own terms. If I had my way, I would just love to squeeze him and cover him with kisses, but it's not about what I want because I know what it feels to have people do things to your body against your will. This is why I always ask. ALWAYS.

The point to take away from all this, is that having a sensory issue where touch can be a problem does not mean the person doesn't want to be touched or loved. It means it feels overwhelming and weird at times and worse when forced. I am not in control of the way my body "over" reacts to stimulus. It is not conscious. It is not my fault. My body works differently and that's it. I still love touch, but it has to be on my terms.

Also, I don't have the same reactions as I did as a child. My senses are somewhat muted now. My husband is allowed and able to touch my face and head. But part of that could be because he has respected me and my body and that goes a long way.

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